The diagnosis elicits fear, anger, and denial – some of the same emotions seen when mourning a death. Many times the patient is afraid to inform family and friends for fear of alienation. The fear can be elevated if at the time of diagnosis, treatment options are given. This is where the physician plays a critical role. Anger is common and is usually manifest as anger towards close family and friends. It is another coping mechanism that is masking fear. Denial is usually the first reaction. “This can’t be happening to me” or “there must be some mistake”. Again, this is usually just another form of fear.
Once acceptance of the diagnosis has been made, several events tend to occur, which all can cause more stress. Other physicians may need to be consulted, surgery may be necessary with a long healing process, and chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be indicated. Each procedure requires a different physician. Multiple physicians being involved can be confusing for the patient. Most patients emotionally feel better once treatment is initiated. After treatment is completed, follow- ups can be the next cause of stress. Many patients are concerned as to what may be found during an examination or radiographic study. Once they are told, “everything is ok”, the stress and anxiety resolve.
The most distressing time for patients and families can be during the phase of terminal care. Sometimes hospice services are recommended because the physician feels the patient may benefit from such services at that time or in the near future. Hospice provides an excellent service with both medical and emotional support during the end of life. Many patients and family are concerned about pain and suffering during this difficult time. Hospice can provide significant pain relief through medication. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also now
allowed for pain relief.
The Diagnosis Of Cancer Is A Difficult One.
It is important for patients to know they are not alone. There are many support groups, chat lines, websites, etc that are now available. It is important for patients to feel comfortable with their caregivers – family, friends, and physicians – to openly discuss their fears and concerns. Many times there is no basis for the fears. Cancer treatments and cures have come a long way and the future looks bright.